At the Sierra Club, a Focus on Race, Gender and the Environment, Too

Tell me a bit about your experience as a boy in Puerto Rico and your relationship with the land.

My uncle had a house behind the Yunque National Forest, and that is the place where we would celebrate all the major occasions, everything from the Three Kings Day to Mother’s Day to Holy Week, so that was a place where I was definitely in contact with that aspect. I was also a Boy Scout, so my family would go camping.

And my mom was a big influence. She was a nun, and even though I’m not necessarily focused on the religious rituals, she had a call for service. She was a scientist as well, and she had an ecology club in the school I went to. She was a teacher there, and we were doing recycling back when there wasn’t that much recycling going on.

How does the organization think about balancing conservation and climate change?

I would say both are the same. In the last 10 years or so, the Sierra Club has been focusing a lot on transforming itself to an organization that has justice and equity at the core of what we do. That’s important to recognize, because for many years the environmental movement and the environmental justice movement were not working necessarily together.

When we go to a place, we want to be sure that we’re invited, and that there’s an emphasis on bottom-up organizing. That there is a spirit of mutuality and solidarity, and that we’re inclusive and that we also share resources. It’s that commitment to transformation in the Sierra Club that allows us to be better allies and better partners so that instead of just leading the movement, we’re broadening the movement.

We’re an organization that aspires to be much better allies than we have been in the past. With that comes also a recognition of where we may have effected harm in the past, where are we in the progressive movement, and the interconnection with other parts of the movement — that environmental rights are human rights are justice rights, gender rights and reproductive rights.

You said conservation and climate change are essentially the same thing, but we’re seeing more and more often that these two things at times are in real conflict, for example with offshore wind farms or large transmission lines going across relatively unspoiled lands. How should we be weighing the relative merits of each of these causes right now?

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